Peyton Manning

Carson Wentz's audibles, pre-snap reads reminiscent of Peyton Manning

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Carson Wentz's audibles, pre-snap reads reminiscent of Peyton Manning

A perfect pass wasn’t even the most impressive aspect of Carson Wentz’s 59-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith against the Cardinals on Sunday. It wasn’t Wentz stepping up in the pocket to buy time and avoid a sack, either.

The most impressive aspect of that play — and perhaps the reason the Eagles should be most hopeful and excited about the trajectory Wentz is on — was the quarterback's changing the call in the first place.

The touchdown to Smith was originally going to be a handoff to Kenjon Barner, but Wentz didn’t like the look the defense was giving. So 21 games into his NFL career, the 24-year-old signal caller called an audible and threw a bomb instead.

It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Wentz change the play at the line of scrimmage. Far from it. The trust the Eagles have in him to make pre-snap reads was evident from his very first game as a professional in 2016.

Wentz has done nothing to shake the organization’s faith in his ability to change the play. If anything, Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s belief in the second-year passer only continues to grow.

It’s to the point where Pederson sees a resemblance in the most legendary pre-snap quarterback in the history of the game.

“We give him a little bit of flexibility,” Pederson said this week. “However, it is things that we work on in practice and it has to be within the game plan that we've discussed and worked on.

“We do have a system where it's just a ‘take it’ system, where I can just call the formation, get to the line quickly, bark out cadence — kind of what Peyton Manning has done in his career type of thing.

“Then we have a run or a pass that Carson can get to, but everything is built into the game plan specifically in situations like that for him.”

Wentz has been compared to a lot of players; Peyton Manning might be the most prestigious yet. It doesn’t sound out of line, either, when you stop to think about it.

What set Manning apart from the rest of the league? The 14-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time Most Valuable Player had terrific arm strength, sure, and was incredibly accurate with a fast release. Where he really beat defenses, though, was often before the football ever got to his hands.

Already in his brief career, Wentz appears to be following in those footsteps. Heck, he was before the Eagles got to him with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft.

“It’s preparation,” Wentz said. “It’s studying. It’s knowing your playbook, knowing what you can realistically get into as far as play calls.

“We have a bunch of different terms every week that we’re kind of thinking, so it ultimately comes down to preparation, but, shoot, I’ve been doing that since college. That’s helped me see things and speed up that thought process.”

It’s an attribute the Eagles saw in Wentz from the beginning and part of the reason they fell in love with him. Whether he can become the next Peyton is impossible to predict — Manning was essentially an offensive coordinator on the field, choosing from as many as three or four different plays pre-snap.

But the football IQ is there. So is the drive to be the best and the competitive fire. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich recalls hearing about outbursts Wentz would have with coaches at North Dakota State, and oddly enough, finding that to be a positive during the evaluation process.

“I remember one of the things, going there and him saying that his coaches used to say that he had a lot of arguments with his offensive coordinator,” Reich said. “For me, I took that as a good thing, because he knew what he wanted, he knew what was good, and we welcomed that. That's a good dynamic.”

Wentz downplayed those conversations with coaches in college but admitted he wants to have a voice when designing the game plan. Pederson and Reich sound as though they’ve been more than happy to oblige.

“My relationship with Coach Pederson and Coach Reich has been really, really solid,” Wentz said. “We’ve had a lot of open dialogue, and I respect the heck out of their opinions, and thankfully they respect mine as well. It’s been really beneficial for me and for this whole team.”

Reich elaborated on why those conversations are valuable, even if they may occasionally get a little heated.

“We're all stubborn,” Reich said. “Coaches, players, you’re very confident in what you know and what you believe and what you want, and so we have good discussions and we take a lot of input from Carson like we do all of our players.

“Certainly from the quarterback position, there's a unique contribution I think that you can make and that he can make. What we appreciate about him is that he's mature enough to understand there's a process.”

Wentz trusts the process, although he’s also become very involved with everything to hear him describe it.

“Coach Pederson and I — I go talk to him at least once a day,” Wentz said. “I go in his office sometimes more than once, twice, three times even. Whenever we install plays, I’m like, ‘What do you think about this idea?’ or, ‘How do you feel about this?’

“We’re very comfortable with each other. He’ll come to me and, ‘What do you think about this,’ too. I don’t think it’s anything I’m hesitant to speak up, it’s just we have mutual respect for each other where we can just have that open dialogue.”

The results are evident. Wentz isn’t changing the play every time he breaks the huddle, but the offense's incredible efficiency five games into 2017 is, in part, a reflection of the quarterback’s ability to get into the right call.

The Eagles rank first in the NFL in third-down offense, converting an astounding 53.4 percent of the time. And Wentz is completing 62.1 percent of his passes, with only 3 interceptions and 1 fumble lost (see story).

Most importantly, the Eagles’ record is 4-1.

There are a number of reasons for Wentz’s success. His having the freedom to audible and doing so successfully should not go overlooked.

“We have a couple different systems with that,” Wentz said.

“Sometimes we have two plays. Sometimes we have no play, you just go see how they react and then get into the best play, what you feel is the best for that situation. Then there’s plenty of other times where you have a play call, and you just go up there and you’re like, ‘Yeah, something’s fishy here,’ so you get out of it."

Not exactly Manning-esque, but it’s significantly more than what’s on the plate of a lot of other young quarterbacks around the league.

This is also all still very early into not only Wentz’s career but Pederson’s as head coach as well. This is only Pederson’s second season running the show, and their second season together — which means there’s room for the two to develop and grow together, even in terms of pre-snap decision-making.

“There’s plenty of times where the play he calls is the perfect look, so we’re just rolling,” Wentz said. “There’s time where you’re seeing things and you want to just get out of it.

“It’s all situational, but I think the more effective we are with it, I think it could potentially grow a little bit.”

The level Wentz is playing at now, and the caliber of decisions he is making on the field only lends itself to seeing his responsibilities increase over time. He certainly appears to have the acumen for it — as well as the support system of a coaching staff who believes in him.

"It just comes down to having respect for each other and respecting each other's opinions," Wentz said, "and it’s been a really good relationship."

Matthews: Wentz-Prescott 'could potentially be like a Brady-Peyton rivalry'

Matthews: Wentz-Prescott 'could potentially be like a Brady-Peyton rivalry'

Carson Wentz shrugged it off: “I don’t put too much stock in that stuff.”

Dak Prescott shrugged it off. “I guess. Yeah. I don’t know.”

The reality is that what's going to happen Sunday has never happened before.

Wentz and Prescott on Sunday night will become the first rookie quarterbacks who’ve already won four games to face each other this early in a season.

Wentz is 4-2, Prescott is 5-1. They’re both 23, they both started the preseason as third-stringers, and they play in the same division.

If this doesn’t have the makings of a classic rivalry, then nothing does.

Even if neither wants to talk about it.

Prescott: “It could potentially be there. It could create something that could go over time. I’ve never gotten into comparing myself to anybody. Not another rookie. Not a great quarterback that comes along. I’m not really into comparing.”

Wentz: “It’s exciting and it’s cool to see him doing well. I don’t put too much stock in that stuff but obviously he’s a divisional rival so that very well could happen for a long time.”

But let’s be honest. This is as intriguing a matchup as you’ll see between rookie quarterbacks.

Both off to historic starts, both playing in the same division.

“I think it’s cool,” Jordan Matthews said. “Obviously, Peyton (Manning) and (Tom) Brady, that’s an extremely high honor to be mentioned with those guys but I mean obviously I speak highly of Carson, I know he can be named with those guys, all he needs is more years of playing. And I also have a high respect for Dak too.

“One thing I knew about Dak is that he was going to be able to transition to the league because he had played multiple years being the guy. You have so many guys come from college, they have one good year and then they leave, so they don’t actually know what it’s like to have a full offseason where people prepare for you 24-7 and then you still come out there and put up numbers. So he has a good mindset.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s a poised quarterback, he knows what it means to be a leader, he knows what it means to be gameplanned for.

“And I feel like Carson’s the same way. The thing I love about Carson is that same ability but he also has a chip on his shoulder. So you’re talking about two guys that could potentially be like a Brady-Peyton rivalry. The only difference is that you’re going to get this two times a year and possibly playoffs. It’s a fun thing to be a part of, but I’m glad we’ve got 11.”

Prescott’s 103.9 passer rating is highest in NFL history by a rookie going into Week 8, and Wentz’s 92.7 rating is eighth-highest ever.

Prescott and Wentz both began training camp as their team’s No. 3 quarterbacks, Prescott behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore and Wentz behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.

But injuries to Romo and Moore and Bradford’s trade to the Vikings left Prescott and Wentz leading their teams into the season.

Prescott’s five wins are the most in NFL history by a rookie in his first six games. Wentz is among six rookies who won four of his first six starts, along with familiar names Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson, plus George Shaw of the Colts in 1955.

Wentz stands 6-foot-5, 235 pounds to Prescott’s 6-2, 225. Wentz was the second overall pick out of North Dakota State; Prescott was a fourth-round pick from Mississippi State.

“I actually think they’re kind of similar,” Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “I think they’re similar as far as their build and their intelligence, as far as between Carson and Dak having a good feel for what the offense is trying to do.

“They’re really trying not to make any mistakes. They have a good feel for what is going on. They know what they have to do. They know how to move the ball. They’re just trying to move the ball efficiently. And I think those are two similar guys. Just because they got drafted at two different spots doesn’t make them very different.”

Prescott and Wentz were on opposite teams at the Senior Bowl but got to know each other a little bit at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February.

Prescott on Wentz: “Smart guy, great player, great athlete. He’s doing exactly what I thought he’d do. I figured he’d be a good player in this league, and he’s been doing well.”

Wentz on Prescott: “Throughout the process I got to know him a little bit, got to talk to him, great guy, great dude, and it’s exciting to see he’s been having some success as well.”

The last Eagles rookie quarterback to beat the Cowboys was Jack Concannon in 1964.

No Cowboys rookie QB has ever beaten the Eagles (not counting Kevin Sweeney in a 1987 strike replacement game).

Not that long ago, it would have been unthinkable for rookies like Wentz and Prescott to be having this sort of success.

But the game has changed. According to the Pro-Football Reference database, 11 of the 12 rookies who’ve won at least eight games since 1950 have done so since 2004, Roethlisberger’s rookie year.

Matthews was asked what qualities a rookie quarterback needs to have success.

“I think No. 1, you’ve definitely got to be fearless,” he said. “You’ve got to be fearless. That’s the biggest thing because they put you out there, but if your mindset is, ‘Oh, I need a couple years to get this going,’ then you’re definitely not going to be able to come in and do what you need to do.

“But the thing about the NFL that I don’t think people give enough credit to is you have to have a good opportunity. Your opportunities and then the situations that you’re put in are usually going to determine how (successful) you are lots of time as an NFL athlete.

“My wide receiver class, we all came in and everybody said this class justified everything that we ever thought about wide receivers, but at the end of the day too, before this, receivers got drafted and they went to teams that had an older guy and they just kind of eased in. Most of us came in and we were automatically the No. 1 receiver.

“When you’re given a lot, there’s a lot required of you too, you know? And just having that situation, opportunities, you’re going to actually do better. 

“So you talk about guys like Dak and Carson, not only are these guys fearless, they’re great players, but also I feel like they’re also both in great situations too and they have great opportunities (and) have coaches that believe in them.”

NFL clears Peyton Manning of HGH allegations

NFL clears Peyton Manning of HGH allegations

The NFL says it found no credible evidence that Peyton Manning was provided with human growth hormone or other prohibited substances as alleged in a documentary by Al-Jazeera America last year.

The league said the quarterback and his wife, Ashley, fully cooperated in the seven-month investigation, providing interviews and access to all records sought by investigators.

The NFL is continuing its investigation into allegations made against other NFL players in the documentary, which the league said involves "different lines of inquiry and witnesses." Those other players -- all of them linebackers -- provided the league with sworn affidavits, but the NFL wants to interview them in person.

In stark contrast, Manning, who retired a month after Denver's 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50, welcomed the probe.

In December, Al-Jazeera reported that an intern at an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic was secretly recorded suggesting that Manning's wife received deliveries of HGH in 2011 while the quarterback was recovering from neck fusion surgery. The intern, Charles Sly, recanted his statements, which were recorded without his knowledge. He said they were fabricated in an attempt to impress a potential business partner.

Manning angrily denounced the report, calling it "completely fabricated, complete trash, garbage," and insisting he never took shortcuts in his return to football after missing 2011 with neck problems.

At the time the allegations were levied, both the Broncos and the Colts, whom Manning played for from 1998-2011, issued statements in support of the five-time MVP.

Manning said he sought holistic treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen and nutrient therapy at the Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine with knowledge and consent of the Colts training and medical staff following his four neck surgeries. He insisted he never used performance-enhancing substances and never took anything sent to his wife.

HGH is banned by professional sports leagues and is only legal to prescribe in a few specific medical conditions.

The NFL and players union added human growth hormone testing to the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, but the sides didn't agree to testing terms until 2014. Nobody has tested positive, which would trigger a four-game suspension.

The Al-Jazeera report alleged other high-profile athletes obtained PEDs, including baseball stars Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals.

The report also named four other prominent NFL players: Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers of the Green Bay Packers, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers and free agent Mike Neal.

Unlike Manning, those four players don't want to talk to NFL investigators.

The NFLPA released a statement Monday saying: "As a former player, Peyton Manning is free to do whatever he believes is in his best interest. The Union knows that he understands the rights of players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would never do anything to hurt or undermine active players in support of those rights."